how to use a wok

Are you aware of the best way to use a wok? We don’t just mean grabbing some chicken and vegetables to make a stir-fry. Instead, we mean getting the best out of your cookware to whip up a fantastic dish.

To help you, we have a few tips coming up that will make life a whole lot easier when it comes to wok cooking. By the end of this post, you may not be a culinary master, but you’ll learn how to use a wok correctly when cooking mouthwatering stir-fried dishes.

Cooking With a Wok: What to Expect

stir-frying vegetables

Let’s get one thing straight, though. Using a wok for stir-frying is going to be all action. You will use high heat often to get the best results but don’t let that scare you.

With a wok, you can cook your food in next to no time. If you love being a home cook, then being able to make a delicious stir-fry in a matter of minutes gives you more time to prepare other dishes.

However, don’t think that we are just talking about flames leaping all over the sides of the wok will result in culinary masterpieces. There’s a bit more to it than that, so let’s get into the key steps.

Preparing the Wok

The first thing you need to do is prepare your wok for the actual cooking process. Now, this is going to be an important step, no matter if you have a stainless steel wok or a carbon steel wok. Both still need to be prepared to get the best results.

Prepare your wok correctly by following these steps:

Step 1: Washing

It would help if you washed your brand new wok, and dish soap is going to be perfect. The key here is getting a soft sponge and removing the wok’s protective coating applied in the factory. It would help if you allowed the wok to go through the seasoning process to get the best results. If you struggle with a sponge, try using steel wool over the entire surface to get it all off.

After scrubbing off the factory coating, you must dry the wok thoroughly.

Step 2: Seasoning

You need to put your wok over a flame or a gas stove and get a high heat going. You want to add in some all-purpose cooking oil at this point. Choose an oil with a high smoke point.

You want to make sure that the sides of the wok are coated in oil. Then, you need to heat it, so the carbon steel surface gets hot and the oil effectively cooks. This is important as a well-seasoned wok makes a huge difference to the results you can achieve.

Step 3: Cooling and Wiping

Once you have seasoned the pan, you need to switch off the heat and let your wok cool down completely. You then need to wipe the inside to remove any remaining oil residue.

Step 4: Final Seasoning

The final step is to take some fresh oil and wipe it over every part of the wok. You can now use the wok or store it for future use.

Why Do You Need to Wash and Season Your Wok?

Asian dish in a wok

But why should you go through this process? Surely, a high-quality work won’t need you to go through all of these steps?

Cooking in your wok will work better when you have the non-stick variation. Frying in a wok involves you moving ingredients around a lot, and you don’t want to be scraping things off the sides.

Seasoning provides a natural non-stick surface. If you look at a wok used for Chinese cooking, then you can see the seasoning on the sides, and that’s the reason why frying food in a wok is so easy.

But you need to maintain the seasoning. You need to add oil between uses to keep the wok in perfect condition.

Using Cooking Oil in Your Wok

This is also a good time to talk a bit more about the oil you use when cooking in your wok. You must remember wok dishes are generally going to be cooked on high heat and cooked fast. High heat cooking means a different smoke point is required, or the oil you’re using will just burn and ruin the food.

So, here are the best oils for wok cooking.

Canola Oil or Vegetable Oil

Both oils are versatile and easy to find. While they don’t have the highest smoke point, there’s no doubt that canola oil or vegetable oil can be used for stir-fries, thanks to their neutral flavours. They will enhance the taste of stir-fried dishes and work best for medium to high heat cooking.

Peanut Oil

Popular for its subtle flavours, peanut oil is often used in stir-fry recipes. It is most suitable for cooking at higher temperatures since it won’t give you the best flavours if used at medium heat. However, it does tend to spoil quite quickly compared to other oils, so keep that in mind.

Avocado Oil

This oil is brilliant not only for stir-frys but also for deep frying. You can use it for many wok dishes. It also has a high burn point, and you can use it for low, medium, and high-heat cooking, and it still gets good results. Additionally, it has a neutral flavour, making it an excellent choice for cooking.

Grapeseed Oil

This oil is an excellent choice for wok cooking. What’s great about grapeseed oil is that its neutral flavours won’t alter the flavours of your recipe. It has a significantly clean and light texture as well.

Safflower Oil

Safflower oil has a flavour similar to canola oil, but it has a significantly higher smoke point. This smoke point, reaching 510 F, makes canola oil ideal for wok cooking over extremely high heat.

Now that you know which oils are most suitable for wok cooking keep in mind that you should avoid certain oils when stir-frying—those with low smoke points. Examples of oils with low smoke points include flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil, and butter. These burn easily and will leave a bitter taste in your dish.

How to Make a Stir-Fry in a Wok

The key to a successful stir-fry is knowing when to add the ingredients. Add the ingredients in the following order to achieve the best results.

Step 1: Heat the Oil

The first thing you need to do when you plan on cooking with a wok is to heat it first. Add a few drops of oil, and place the wok on the hob on medium-high heat.

Swirl the oil to give the wok a light coating. Keep in mind that you won’t need too much oil for stir-fried recipes.

Step 2: Add the Aromatics

Depending on your recipe, add some spices, such as fresh ginger, onions, and garlic, before adding the other ingredients. Lightly brown the onions and garlic so the wok will absorb the flavours.

Step 3: Sear the Protein

Next, you should add in your protein and sear it. You must do this step before you throw in the other ingredients. Proteins like fish, meat, and other protein sources are added before the vegetables and noodles because they take the longest to cook.

If you are going to sear some protein, make sure you pat it dry first with paper towels. You will get a much better result this way. Remember, leaving it wet causes the water to evaporate. Hence, you will be steaming your meat instead of searing it.

Sear the meat on one side for a minute or two without stirring it. Then, take a spatula and turn the meat over to sear the other side. After searing the meat, please remove it from the wok, and set it aside on a paper towel for later.

Step 4: Add Vegetables

The next step is to throw in vegetables. It should only take a few minutes to cook as the high heat can effectively flash fry the greens.

However, exactly how long the vegetables will cook depends on what you are using. Leafy greens will take next to no time to cook, while harder vegetables may take a bit longer. As a rule, add firmer slow-cooking vegetables such as broccoli and carrots first, followed by bell pepper, and softer vegetables like mushrooms and beansprouts last.

If things look as if they are drying up, add water to the mix rather than more oil.

Step 5: Add the Sauce

Finally, you add the sauce to your food, and this is going to essentially be warmed up rather than you trying to cook it into the dish. Most stir-fry recipes will include oyster sauce and light or dark soy sauce. Other recipes may even include Chinese cooking wine.

Step 6: Combine Everything

The final step is to combine everything. That means throwing in the protein, adding some basmati rice or noodles to the mix, and stirring continuously. Heat everything through for a few minutes, giving your dish a reduction. Once the meat, vegetables or noodles has reached the required doneness, the stir-fry is ready to be served.

Caring for Your Wok

Finally, you need to know how to care for your wok, and this is where there’s some dispute as to what you should do.

Some argue you shouldn’t use dish soap as you want that burnt part to participate in the home cooking process. They keep their woks clean by wiping them with a damp rag or paper towel to preserve the patina.

Others, however, think it is okay to wash and scrub your wok with a mild detergent and a sponge as long as you re-season it properly after washing.

However, it would be best to avoid vigorous scrubbing when cleaning your wok. If you want to remove burnt food off its bottom, bring water to a boil on low heat on your wok.

This will loosen any stuck-on bits, making them easier to remove. There are other techniques for removing burnt food from pans as well.

Making the Most Out of Your Wok

Woks are a kitchen staple that makes it easier for home cooks to whip up mouthwatering dishes. Remember, knowing how to use a wok correctly will help you create the best stir-fry you’ve ever created.

We hope you found this guide on preparing, using, and caring for woks helpful. We aren’t talking about rocket science here, but the tips listed here should differentiate between flavourful and bland stir-frys.

Have you tried cooking in a wok? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below. For more kitchen and cooking tips, check out this blog regularly. We update it with new articles and step-by-step guides every day.

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